Reel Women: ‘Super Fun Night’ Isn’t Just All About Fat Jokes
Rebel Wilson‘s new TV show, ‘Super Fun Night,’ debuted on ABC this week. Produced by Conan O’Brien with ‘State’ and ‘Stella’ alum Michael Showalter co-writing and consulting, the show has all the talent it needs to succeed, but still falls flat. That’s okay because shows often take a few episodes to find their footing. But that’s not what everyone is talking about; instead, we’re all focused on the one thing we shouldn’t be: Rebel Wilson’s weight.
In ‘Pitch Perfect,’ Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy gave herself that name so she could get a one-up on other people calling her fat. Her reasoning was that if you point it out yourself and get it out of the way, people can focus on other things. And her character was right — kind of. As long as you don’t consistently make whatever physical characteristic defines you the butt of your own jokes, it’s okay to acknowledge it. Melissa McCarthy is so damn funny because she isn’t always joking about her size, but because she plays brash characters who say and act in unexpected ways — unexpected because she’s a lady.
I went into ‘Super Fun Night’ expecting Wilson to make fun of her size, but instead, it acts as sort of direct commentary on people who only seem to be able to talk about her size –her co-workers point it out (in one instance, directly to her face), and it shows us that to them, Wilson’s Kimmie is defined by her size. But Kimmie’s focus in the episode is on her own insecurity, and it’s not the kind that comes from her outward appearance, but from stage fright that she’s been coping with since she was a kid. Like all of us, Kimmie needs some confidence, but her new competitive and stereotypical pretty, mean and pretty mean girl co-worker Kendall is committed to making Kimmie feel even worse about herself. How dare Kimmie get attention from Richard, the son of their boss at the law firm, when obviously she is not as pretty as Kendall? This idea is clearly shown from Kendall’s point of view — we, as the audience, are never once led to believe that Kimmie is undeserving of attention and respect. She is an accomplished lawyer, after all.
I’ve seen some pieces this week in which writers have called out the show for its prominent fat jokes, but never once did I feel as though the show or Wilson were making fun of Kimmie’s size or trying to exploit it for humor. Sure, she likes food, and she makes lots of jokes about eating — but so did Liz Lemon. There are Spanx jokes, but there have been similar jokes in film and television involving thinner women struggling with shape-wear. Does it only become a fat joke when the character is overweight? These jokes aren’t about her size, and if you as the viewer take them as such, that’s a direct reflection on what you find to be most prominent about Wilson. As an overweight actress, why can’t she make the same jokes about food and Spanx as a skinny character would without being criticized for making fat jokes? Saying it’s wrong-headed or offensive for her to make these jokes is marginalizing her based on her size. You might as well say that a woman can’t make the same jokes as a man.
Rushing to accuse Wilson of mining her weight for laughs is counter-intuitive. We want actresses of all shapes and sizes to be able to play the same roles as thin actresses, and Wilson is doing that. Kimmie professing her love of donuts or ordering pizzas with her girlfriends when they’ve had a rough night isn’t a knock on her weight — it’s real. Who doesn’t love food?!
Producer and co-creator Conan O’Brien recently said in an interview that Wilson’s “weight is vastly overshadowed by her talent. It’s like the early Beatles — after the world heard the songs, no one cared about their haircuts.” I’m inclined to agree. Wilson’s talents have nothing to do with her weight as long as she’s not exploiting her size for comedy or allowing others to do the same. ‘Super Fun Night’ is flawed — the pacing is a bit off and some of the beats feel forced, but it’s still in infancy, so it needs some room to grow, but where it succeeds is in recognizing Kimmie as a human being and not a number on a scale. It’d be nice if everyone else could, too.